When should you take the SAT/ACT?
By Levi Busch
(Test Prep (ACT/SAT/SSAT), English Literature tutor at The Edge Learning Center)
Many of the students who come to The Edge for assistance with the SAT or the ACT do not realize that one of the most important factors for success is an intelligent testing plan. Unless you are one of the small minority of students who crushes the exam the very first time you take it, there’s a good chance you will be sitting for the SAT/ACT a few times during your high school career. Making sure that you are prepared for these brushes with standardized testing is a great way to ensure success, minimize anxiety, and put yourself on the fast track to university admissions. Seeing as the SAT is offered six times each year in Hong Kong and the ACT is only offered five times a year, a question naturally arises: “when should I take these tests?”
Before you start getting worked up about your test date, your first step is to make sure that you are prepared for the levels of math in each examination. Both the SAT and the ACT require that you have a good grasp of the fundamentals of geometry, algebra, and trigonometry. Most students will have encountered all of these topics by the beginning of their junior year, making 11th grade an ideal choice for beginning a test preparation schedule.
Although this next step may seem somewhat backwards, it is usually more helpful to think of the last possible examination that you can take. If you are part of the majority of students who are only applying Regular Decision in the college admissions process, you will have to adhere to RD application deadlines (which are usually in January or February of senior year). Consequently, the last SAT/ACT test date viable for most RD deadlines is the one in December. If you know that you will be applying Early Decision or Early Action, then your last test will typically fall in October. The application deadlines for specific universities vary, however, so you should always make sure you have enough time.
So now it’s the start of junior year. You think you’ll be applying Regular Decision, but you’re not sure yet. What should you do?
1.) Take the SAT in January or the ACT in December
Let me make one thing clear: you should not go into this test unprepared. A test preparation course like The Edge’s SAT/ACT Essentials would assist you with both knowledge of the test and the test’s content, but if this is not your style, then make sure that you take at least a few practice tests to familiarize yourself with the way the test works. While your first exam will probably not be your last, there’s a distinct (if slight) chance you could get the score you’ve always dreamed of. If you beat the odds and get this score, then you’re totally done! For the rest of us, this test score will serve as a good benchmark with which we may best plan our upcoming test schedule.
2.) Take the SAT in June/May or the ACT in June
Both tests are available in June, but the ACT is not offered in May. This test is the big one for most juniors, and your performance here should be informed by a sustained, serious amount of studying. As you reflect on your performance on your first exam, you should seek to strengthen the content areas that you struggle with most so that you can crush this one. Whether you schedule 1-on-1 lessons with a private tutor or self-study, you need to be approaching your peak ability. If you succeed, you’re done! You can chuckle at all your friends’ stress levels! If you don’t, your friends might chuckle at you, but don’t worry; there are a couple more chances to get the score you want.
3.) Take the SAT in October or the ACT in September/October
Your summer needs to be sincerely devoted to improving your SAT/ACT score. By senior year, your plate will be full of extracurricular activities, schoolwork, college applications, and (hopefully) a social life, but if you’ve not yet gotten your SAT/ACT scores up to where you want them, it will be very difficult to balance all of these things. This is the third test you will have taken, and it will hopefully be your last. If you are applying to Early Decision/Early Action, this is the last possible test you can use. If you are applying Regular Decision, you have one more shot.
4.) Take the SAT in November/December or the ACT in December
This is it. This is the last one. If you’ve not achieved the score you want by this time, kiss your social life goodbye. To make sure that your standardized test scores do not hold you back from the college of your dreams, you need to work as hard as possible to succeed on this one. Relinquish your dream of dominating your school’s annual badminton competition, tell your friends to leave you alone, and put off a little bit of homework for school; the SAT/ACT doesn’t wait for anyone, and it will drive right past you.
So there you have it! This is an ideal testing schedule for about 90% of Hong Kong students. It will allow you a decent number of opportunities to see and correct the errors you make, four different opportunities to take the test, and ample time to engage in rigorous test preparation. Students who are well-prepared for these exams most often do exceedingly well on them; students who are ill-prepared do not. You and your parents already know which one you want to be.